This is a special winter edition of the blog.
We are here in Çanakkale, Turkey moored in the city's marina. We have experienced this winter days as high as 20+ C, lows as low as -4 C; winds over 70 knots gusting, rain… well like buckets from the sky. We have watched ferry boat traffic from here across to the other side slow down to just one BIG ferry making the run as the winds made it just too dangerous for the other 3 ferries to run. We watched as that event caused a traffic jam the likes one might see on a Monday morning commute going into a major US City. (We come to learn that this occurs when the ferries to the North of Çanakkale are sidelined due to the intense weather on the Sea of Marmara. This crossing is the only one that might still be active in weather that is so severe that it stops all other car and truck ferries.)
So, off and on, since LeeZe became ours, I have been having fuel system issues. I had fuel leaks I could not find, fuel leaks I could not stop, fuel leaks I stopped but they recurred, vacuum leaks that seem to come and go, and one persistent vacuum leak that just defied locating. (I have even had fuel filter elements collapse into a heap inside their associated canisters.)
How do I know I had these vacuum leaks? My main engine primary fuel/water separator filter over time would fill up with air, causing an engine shutdown. When I vent that filter, air would come out, fuel would fill the filter, and the engine could be restarted. Underway, venting it periodically required a Rube Goldberg procedure that I knew I would screw up one day and possible damage the main engine.
I "conquered" this problem by wrapping each and every joint that could possible be under vacuum using plastic stretch wrap, and then taped the mess together. It "solved" the immediate problem but every time I went into the engine room, I looked at that mess and knew I could not let it stay.
And I still had fuel leaks. Small ones mind you but still leaks. And, I had fuel in the bilge coming from pipes I could not see nor reach.
Now the yard thought it put together a pretty bullet-proof system, in their mind. But honestly, it was a mis-mash of different pipe diameters, couplings and connectors. My guess is that they used what pipe they had on hand, slapped it together, used copious amounts of teflon tape and thread sealant, and in two particular cases, super-human strength to make the connections and not have any OBVIOUS fuel leaks.
In Kusadasi, we put on 1500 watts of solar panels, and this past cruising season, they supplied enough so that we used only about 25-30 liters of diesel fuel for the generator. Since the tank holds 42 liters, and the fuel use is under 1 liter per hour at 70% load, we only filled that tank once.
In winter, we have a diesel fired heater that is filled using a hose from the fuel system.
I decided to rip out the entire fuel system and redo it. Before I did that, I sat in the engine room and thought and looked and pondered and thought some more. Zehra thought I was crazy. What I was doing was in my mind, redesigning the system to what I needed.
With the help of a local Çanakkale boater, I was introduced to a hydraulic hose shop in town. This boater also introduced me to a pipe guy also.
I toyed with replacing the system with either SS of brass pipes, but the pipe guy said it would cost a fortune. So, that left the hose guy.
What I wanted down they had never done before. They said they were willing to make it up, but could not guarantee that my problems would be solved. They were suggesting to use 10mm inside diameter hose with full port manual hydraulic system rated valves.
The next size up was 25 mm and I knew that was way to big.
I thought this 10 mm hose would be fine because the hose the main engine company provided to connect to the fuel system was 3/8" diameter which is 9.5 mm inside diameter.
So, first, had to disconnect the old piping. Now, some of the couplings used an 18 mm wrench, most used 22 or 27 mm, but 8 needed a 36 mm wrench to undo. And remember that super human strength comment? Well, two of these 36 mm couplings were tighten with such force that they were deformed (therefore there NO HOPE of getting them to stop leaking) and to separate them required a wrench, a breaker bar, and two burly hydraulic shop guys.
Taking apart the others also required a lot of sweat, many scraped knuckles, and in more than a few cases, numerous use of a large rubber mallet.
As more of the system came apart, leaks that I thought I had stopped I had not. Vacuum lines leaked fuel when under pressure during fuel cleaning, pressurized connections were weeping small amounts of diesel fuel, and the main engine's fuel pump fuel supply line connection had been over torqued during assembly and the housing was cracked. (I thought I was going to have to buy a new fuel pump, and when I priced it, it was over $500. However, the hydraulic shop said this happens a lot and they had a pre-engineered repair procedure that restored it like new. Whew! Dodged a $$$ bullet)
Once apart, it was time to measure and get the new hoses made up. Using pictures, a drawing on how I wanted to change the system, and suggestions from the shop people, we slowly got the stuff made. At times, given what needed to be done, they found the part and modified it on the lathe since in general, their parts are for the big boy hydraulic machines, not my teeny-ass fuel system.
But, with nary a complaint, we got it done. Installation was a whole lot easier using machined connectors with internal o-rings that would seal under pressure or vacuum without thread sealant. There was 4 places where thread sealant was required but even then, I was confident these would not leak.
Of course, I made a mistake. I decided to keep one valve from the original system. It is a 3-way valve directing fuel to either of the two fuel pumps I have. Keeping this valve meant that custom connectors had to be turned on the lathe and for some foolish reason, I kept this valve.
So, I get the system together 10+ days ago and while the engine runs fine, there was STILL A DAMN VACUUM LEAK. How do I know? The same filter as before is filling up with air, more slowly mind you than before, but still filling with air.
So, I sit in the engine room and ponder my dilemma. First I think it is the fuel filter connectors recently repaired but nope, not them. Then I check to see if maybe I had cracked the other fuel pump housing or connectors… nope nada. Then I check to see if I cross threaded any connection… nope, had not. Then check to see if maybe the new valves are not vacuum tight (yup, they are.)
Finally, there is one valve I just could not figure out how to check–The three way valve. By process of elimination, it has to be the source, but from where I am clueless.
So, take that valve out and take it to the hardware store where I buy fitted brass plugs so I can plug the ports, then off to a gas station where I pressurize the valve using the air pump used to fill tires (you should have seen the look on the station's attendants but they did not interfere!).
At 30 psi, could not tell anything. At 50 psi, the leak "announced" itself with a shrill noise. The location? The valve's stem is leaking.
Great! Back to LeeZe, take the valve apart, noticed rust inside, or what looked like rust. Thought that was strange. Cleaned that up, resealed the stem with new "o" rings, re-assembled, and went back to the gas station.
You can guess where this is going………
Valve leaked again. Same place–lower pressure.
Off to the hydraulic shop with valve in hand. (Please keep in mind that I am using my folding 20" bicycle to get around town!) Explain the problem the best that I could and while doing that, the owner slips away, only to return a few minutes later with a catalog, showing this same model valve, with a description that says in effect, this valve is not to be used in a vacuum system.
Back to LeeZe. Now it is Friday, a week ago. Back I go and sit in the engine room. I need to replace this three-way valve with another manifold. Sketch something up and decide to sleep on it.
Monday, back to the shop with my sketch of a two valve manifold coming off a hydraulic pipe tee. and 4 hoses that have to be modified. All is ready in about four hours (more machining!) and back to LeeZe to install. Nope, not right. Where the shop thought I needed a 90 degree fitting, I did not. Back to the shop, they correct, we have a tea (the thread sealant has to be given some time to do its thing before testing) and back on the bike to LeeZe.
On this ride, the sky opens, hail pours down, lightning announces the thunder's arrival, and my head hurts from being pounded on by the hail.
Back on board I assemble the items, but since it is almost dinner time, decide to test the next day.
Tuesday, after breakfast, with Zehra at the fuel cleaning pump switch at the helm with a walkie-talkie, I check everything, align the valves as needed, and she starts the pump.
I hear strange noises as the pump pulls the fuel from the tank thru the filters that were filled with some air, thru empty hoses, and back to the tank. But after a few minutes, all the strange noises stop, the normal pump noise is all that I am hearing, and differential pressure across the filters is higher than "normal" (and these are brand new) so it appears that I have increased the flow thru the system. Later I do I test and where before it took just over 3 minutes to fill a 5 liter bottle, now it is just under two.
It appears all is as it should be so I sit at the system, peering hard for any tell-tales leaks.
Seeing none, and after hours, there is no discernible air in that fuel filter, I think I can declare victory. (I take a picture of the new system and give it to the shop, just to show them what it looks like.)
But, of course, not really done.
In the process of making this change, there is about 12 meters of fuel lines that I am no longing using. These direct fuel to the generator and diesel heater. Since removing them at this second is not a priority, I decide to cap them. Taking pictures of what I want to cap, I go off to my trusty hardware store and he gives me 4 caps.
Yup, too easy…… They do not work. Thursday back to him to return said caps, off to the hose shop who ponders and ponders and then gives to me two caps to try, then back to LeeZe where those NEW caps do not work. (That picture I gave to them? The owner got a frame and put it up on his wall, next to his business license, with LeeZe's boat card in the frame! How cool is that
Looking around at all of the pipe parts and pieces I have, I come to see that there is a common connector that could work. To make a long story short, I find 4 connectors, go to the hardware store, found 4 brass caps that work, pay the store some $2, and come back to LeeZe and cap those lines.
Now I am done.
In total, I counted today that the old system used 19 pieces of various diameter and lengths of pipe, 9 valves, and 111 couplings or connectors.
The new system has 10 valves (but no "T" valve!), and some 57 connectors / couplings, with 50 of those machined and fitted with an "O" ring, 1 hose clamp, and the rest thread sealed. The fuel return line from the engine is now one continuous piece of hose so the leaks from the multiple coupling return line are a thing of the past!
I now have a hose to fill the generator and diesel heat fuel tanks, so those hard pipes are capped and can no longer leak.
Visually, the system looks cleaner. I will get valve tags made up but even Zehra can figure out how to properly align the fuel system so fuel can get to the engine.
I have a new capability of being able to completely isolate either fuel pump and change it without having to shutdown the engine.
Here are some before and after pictures